Faith school quota plans scrapped

The government has abandoned its plans to force new faith schools to take a set number of non-faith pupils following lobbying by religious groups.

Education secretary Alan Johnson announced last night that he would not be tabling legislation to make 25 per cent of places in new faith schools available to non-believers.

The plans were only announced last week, and although schools minister Lord Adonis insisted it would not be a nationwide quota, but would be decided by local authorities, they prompted a strong reaction from many religious groups.

Earlier this week, Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Birmingham and the chairman of the Catholic Education Service (CES), urged head teachers to lobby against the plans.

He condemned them as “ill-thought-out, unworkable, contradictory of empirical evidence and deeply insulting of the reality and achievements of Catholic schools”, saying most Catholic schools admitted 30 per cent of their pupils from non-faith backgrounds.

The Church of England has already said it would admit 25 per cent of non-Christian children to its schools, and last night Mr Johnson said the Catholic church had agreed to such a voluntary quota for any new Catholic schools.

“I have listened carefully to colleagues on this issue and recognise that we all share the same goal for a more cohesive society where faith schools play an important part in building understanding and tolerance of other faiths and communities,” he said.

He added: “As we now have the support of the two major faith organisations in the country for our proposed way forward, I do not feel the legislative route is necessary or appropriate and no longer propose to lay an amendment to the education and inspection bill.”

The move is likely to be welcomed by Muslim and Jewish groups, who had also expressed concern at the new law. The former were most likely to be affected, as the quota would only be for new faith schools, most of which are Muslim.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather also welcomed the government’s decision to abandon an “ill-thought out” and “half-baked” law, saying: “Dealing with social cohesion takes serious thought and consultation.

“If they want to properly address the role of faith schools in social integration they should make it part of the remit of their Commission for Integration and Cohesion.”